The public has a right to art: the joy and rebellion of Keith Haring
August 20, 2019 3:07 PM   Subscribe

The public is being ignored by most contemporary artists. Art is for everybody. Keith Haring did much more than provide cute cartoons. He was publicly minded. His art faced outwards. He wanted to inform, to start a conversation, to question authority and convention, to represent the oppressed.
posted by stillmoving (20 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
two of my faves: When Keith Haring painted Grace Jones
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:38 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wish I could appreciate Haring.

For a long time, I knew little about him – I just knew the work I saw on postcards in museum gift shops and in magazines. Its cartoonish exuberance and mass-produced kitsch reminded me, more than anything else, of Ziggy.

I really disliked it, on a purely aesthetic level.

Then I learned that Haring was gay in NYC in the 80s, and that much of his work was responding to the AIDS crisis, and that his work means a lot to some folks because of these things.

And, like...I respect Haring now. But I still can't deal with his work aesthetically. The 80s were not a good time for pop-culture visual art.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:50 PM on August 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

I got nothing against Haring but I do hold him accountable for the proliferation of squiggly primitivist cartoon characters in the 1990s.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:59 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

The public is being ignored by most contemporary artists

I kinda think it's the exact opposite of that. Contemporary artists are ignored by the public. Have always been.

fwiw, I like Haring.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:08 PM on August 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

I can remember when Haring first started out. New York subway riders became subliminally aware of these little crawling baby figures popping up on walls, advertising and dales black rectangles. It was a dismal time for many reasons. Those radiant babies were pure visual refreshment. A delight.

No one knew who this mystery artist was. Then he started introducing his other icons, and as a subway rider, I began to follow them and look forward to discovering what this unknown genius would do next.

Then, Keith Haring exploded all over the media. Wow, now he could really stretch out and give full rein to his talents.

And what Keith Haring did was - the same thing. Different icons. Different sizes. Sometimes in color. But the same unvarying line. Same interval between lines. The joy one once felt at encountering a Keith Haring fled.

But the media never tired of him, and Keith Haring's line became an oppressive reminder of how the art world rewards those who find a successful formula and are willing to drive it into the ground.
posted by Modest House at 4:25 PM on August 20, 2019 [14 favorites]

Say what you will, he gave us the Android logo.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:07 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

But the media never tired of him, and Keith Haring's line became an oppressive reminder of how the art world rewards those who find a successful formula and are willing to drive it into the ground.

He also died at the tender age of 31. If he had somehow survived the disease the took him and so many of his contemporaries, what would his art have looked like? We'll never know.
posted by gwint at 5:26 PM on August 20, 2019 [24 favorites]

I disagree, Modest House. He found an idiom that worked for him and developed it into something he could use to express what he needed to express in a way that he made relatable.

What you level at Harring could be said of Mondrian, Thiebaud, Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly, etc. But I would say that Harring's particular idiom had more scope for personal expression. Which isn't the be all and end all of art, but it's what he was doing. And moreover, a lot of his acclaim is posthumous, so...

(I met a woman who hated Chagall because in her community it had become birthday-card kitch. I mean, well, she had a point but that wasn't really Chagall's fault either.)
posted by sjswitzer at 5:28 PM on August 20, 2019 [12 favorites]

(for instance, you should really take a look at one of his late works referenced in the article: The Last Rainforest-- still overly political and still immediately Haring-like, but damn, he was going somewhere. His art was still progressing and growing until the end.)
posted by gwint at 5:33 PM on August 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

Back in the day, there was a big retrospective show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art of his works. I can’t say I was a big fan but there was something about the show that really bothered me. There was a sort of maze like quality to how things were arranged and there were TVs everywhere mostly showing NYC club scenes with loads of people dancing. And for some reason most of the people at the exhibition were standing in groups staring at the TVs. And not really looking at the art. To me it was almost disrespectful to the artist. The curators should have been ashamed. Were they trying to reach out to the masses by having TVs somehow displaying the culture that Haring experienced? I sort of doubt it as the unwashed don’t really go to SFMOMA.
posted by njohnson23 at 6:14 PM on August 20, 2019

Keith Haring (lower right, working on drawing) creating a portrait of Alan Ginsberg (center back, striped tie in Lawrence KS in 1988.

My love for Haring is absolute. What he did seemed so basic, but nobody else was doing it and nobody else was ever so expressive with such minimal design. His art pulled things back entirely to a point of childlike play even while it challenged the very culture that was allowing him to die while the President of the US made jokes about men like him dying.

He was gone very very early, perhaps too soon. But what he left us with, when we encounter it even today (which is increasingly rare, sadly), always moves me to joy, and reflection, of varying measures.
posted by hippybear at 6:20 PM on August 20, 2019 [12 favorites]

In the context of the AIDS crisis Keith Haring holds a pretty special place in my heart. I don't particularly enjoy looking at elemental art? But I also know art is about more than visually delighting's like me being a woman and dressing for myself, not you. So maybe I don't like the look, but I can still respect and find a place in my heart that shares space with the context and the milieu and the spectacle that resulted.
posted by nikaspark at 7:24 PM on August 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

My favorite part of the photo I linked above is the girl watching it being drawn. I have a postcard on my hallway wall of that same girl dancing in the space between the drawing's erect penis and arms while Ginsberg and Haring stand nearby looking at the portrait, and it's one of my favorite pictures ever but I couldn't find it online to link so you got a precursor to that. It's still great.
posted by hippybear at 8:50 PM on August 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have a deep and abiding love for Haring and his work. The first time I saw The Dog in its crowded, manic, sexual, violent, howling glory, it was like an ecstatic spiritual experience for me.

If you are writing off his work on its own merits (even without the context of his life and times) as repetitive or simple or commercial, I think you may have been led astray by the more highly marketed works which are arguably those things.

Also, check out the link in the article for "painting himself into a corner" and realize that those fellow artists describing him as "confident with his line" are not kidding, he was fast. Given that context, one of his last works, the deliberately Unfinished Painting, is powerful as hell.
posted by panhopticon at 12:37 AM on August 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

Graffiti (and thus Haring, they are entwined as the article mentions) should be looked at as one of the greatest public folk art movements of all time. ART IS MEANT TO BE SEEN and to be seen by many should be the goal of art. Arguments about his aesthetic are fine - if you don't like it I get it. But like graffiti it was designed to be done fast, and to be seen fleetingly. A visual language that concise is no joke.

(Sorry I grew up in NYC in the 80's. Art was everywhere and it was glorious. The first time a full top to bottom car came through a subway station while we waited for a train was the last time I had a rational thought about this.)

Oh, and shout out to SVA. What an amazing place it was.
posted by pilot pirx at 6:36 AM on August 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Some of the comments expressing appreciation for Haring's work are really hitting it on the nose for me.

The critical ones.. I dunno.. there's a real backwards-looking sort of blinders feel to those comments. No-one is asking for universal approval for Haring's approach, his work, but I am aligned to those who have fleshed out the context and the whole point of it and some seem to have missed the point.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:48 AM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

The first time a full top to bottom car came through a subway station while we waited for a train was the last time I had a rational thought about this.

I have dreams about this experience, one I will never have. Nostalgia for the unexperienced is real and it keeps me going every day in this town.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I live in an area in which there is a ridiculous amount of automobile road/rail road same grade crossings and I spend a lot of time watching rail cars creep by. The graffiti on them is the most worthwhile thing happening during that time. I once had three cars in succession, in different styles, deliver a "life" "thehappen" "hereandhear" and that's the only time that's happened but I've thought about it ever since.

Mostly it's just a bunch of personal tags taken to extensive decorative heights because railyards provide some privacy to do public-facing art.
posted by hippybear at 10:41 PM on August 21, 2019

I like Keith Haring because his pictures just "spark joy" for me. I have a long complicated relationship with an addict and the last time i dropped him off at his latest recovery house, i turned the corner to head back to my place and saw Haring's phila mural and it reminded me that i should be happy that we still have our "youth" at the ripe age of 34 and weren't cut down prematurely like too many of the creatives in Haring's time
posted by WeekendJen at 6:19 AM on August 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

As a queer teen who was taking up cartooning in the early 90s, Haring was a huge inspiration. The confidence of his line is something I'm still working toward. I love his stuff, and the more I see of it the more it blows me away.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:07 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

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